Finding good novels for high school students is easy. Understanding Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe requires more than just understanding a novel. It requires understanding the effect change has on individuals and the effect colonialism had on Africa.
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Things Fall Apart Book Review: The Summary
Okonkwo is a wealthy and respected member of the Umuofia tribe. His elevated status began in his youth when he defeats Amalinze the Cat in a wrestling match. Okonkwo's family often went hungry as a child due to his father's laziness and irresponsibility, something which spurred him to work hard and become great. Although Okonkwo has many desirable qualities--strength, work ethic, and perseverance--his temper causes problems. He beats his children and wives, gets bored easily, and is too demanding
Okonkwo receives a boy from another tribe, whom he loves and is ordered to kill after living with him for three years. His part in the murder repels his son and causes severe depression. Okonkwo's status in the tribe is lessened at the funeral of a great townsman when his gun misfires and kills the dead man's son, forcing Okonkwo into exile for seven years.
Obierika, Okonkwo's friend, arrives to give Okonkwo money from the sale of his yams. He tells about Abame, a village destroyed by white men in retaliation for the killing of one of their associates.Obierika returns two-years later and reports that Nwoye, Okonkwo's son has become a Christian missionary. Okonkwo refuses to discuss it.
When the seven years are up, Okonkwo returns and discovers that his home village has been taught the Christian religion. Conflict ensues and Okonkwo desires to expel the foreigners.
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Choosing novels for high school students requires teachers to choose something with literary merit. Things Fall Apart meets this requirement. Conflict plays an important role in the novel. Understanding these conflicts leads to understanding Things Fall Apart.
Change vs. Tradition - Okonkwo is threatened by change, owing to his exalted position in the tribe. He strictly adheres to tribal customs even when they infringe upon his wishes--exemplified by the death of Ikemefuna, and his exile from the village for seven years. He fights against the unmanly ways of youth, embodied in his son Nwoye, and urges tribal leaders to expel the Europeans and their new religion.
Fate vs. Free Will - This falls into the category of the individual vs. the supernatural. Okonkwo is convinced that his choices play the most important role in his success...until bad luck occurs and he is thrust from the village. Nature, gods, and superstition play a vital role in the life of the villagers.
Okonkwo's Manhood vs. Everything - Okonkwo worries about how others view him. Manhood motivates Okonkwo's actions. Okonkwo lives in fear of being thought weak and effeminate. His concept of manhood doesn't change, even when his society does. His inability to change destroys him.
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Choosing novels for high school students requires a teachable novel. Things Fall Apart meets this requirement.
Students should be familiar with imperialism and the colonization of Africa by European powers. It's best to present a lesson on imperialism at the beginning of part 2, when Okonkwo is exiled from his tribe.
Things Fall Apart contains many African folk tales. The Anansi tales serve as excellent examples.
Instruct students to write a definition essay on what it means to be a man (warn them to keep it clean).